unc·​tu·​ous | \ ˈəŋ(k)-chə-wəs How to pronounce unctuous (audio) , -chəs, -shwəs \

Definition of unctuous

1 : having, revealing, or marked by a smug, ingratiating, and false earnestness or spirituality
2a : fatty, oily
b : smooth and greasy in texture or appearance
3 : plastic fine unctuous clay

Other Words from unctuous

unctuously adverb
unctuousness noun

Is unctuous positive or negative?

Nowadays, unctuous usually has a negative connotation, but it originated as a term describing a positive act, that of healing. The word comes from the Latin verb unguere ("to anoint"), a root that also gave rise to the words unguent ("a soothing or healing salve") and ointment. The oily nature of ointments may have led to the application of unctuous to describe things marked by an artificial gloss of sentimentality. An unctuous individual may mean well, but his or her insincere earnestness can leave an unwelcome residue with others, much like some ointments.

Examples of unctuous in a Sentence

an unctuous effort to appear religious to the voters an unctuous appraisal of the musical talent shown by the boss's daughter
Recent Examples on the Web The soil seems to come through in the wine, which in the 2019 vintage balances a bitter, ferrous backbone with unctuous flavors of cocoa and fig. Esther Mobley, San Francisco Chronicle, 1 Apr. 2022 Last but not least, the quesabirria—unctuous cuts of beef braised all night in an intensely fragrant chile broth, which comes full circle as the dipping jus for these crispy cheesy tacos. Jackie Tran, Bon Appétit, 18 Feb. 2022 The restaurant’s carne guisada is remarkably unctuous with an intensely savory beef flavor, and the enchilada plate will satisfy any nostalgic craving with its classic Tex-Mex gravy and boatload of gooey yellow cheese. Paul Stephen, San Antonio Express-News, 19 Jan. 2022 The meat is braised into unctuous tenderness with onion, garlic, chilies, green herbs, and coconut. Kara Baskin, BostonGlobe.com, 21 Jan. 2022 After all, that’s what frogs’ legs demand — and not just any butter: the unctuous otherworldly thing of beauty that is French butter. New York Times, 27 Nov. 2021 In a charming early chapter, in which Abu’l-Fazl describes how the infant Akbar was breastfed, Mr. Thackston’s translation of the chronicler’s unctuous words is pitch-perfect. Tunku Varadarajan, WSJ, 7 Jan. 2022 The oil adds an unctuous quality to every bite, without tamping down the dish’s inherent bouquet and spice. Washington Post, 3 Jan. 2022 Even more ominous, Mok Shaiz (David Pasquesi), an unctuous Twi’lek representative of the (still unseen) mayor of Mos Espa, offers a tribute of … nothing. Keith Phipps, Vulture, 29 Dec. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'unctuous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of unctuous

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

History and Etymology for unctuous

Middle English, from Middle French or Medieval Latin; Middle French unctueus, from Medieval Latin unctuosus, from Latin unctus act of anointing, from unguere to anoint

Learn More About unctuous

Time Traveler for unctuous

Time Traveler

The first known use of unctuous was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast About unctuous

Dictionary Entries Near unctuous




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for unctuous

Last Updated

5 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Unctuous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unctuous. Accessed 26 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for unctuous


unc·​tu·​ous | \ ˈəŋ(k)-chə(-wə)s, ˈəŋ(k)sh-wəs How to pronounce unctuous (audio) \

Medical Definition of unctuous

: rich in oil or fat : fatty an unctuous pharmaceutical preparation

More from Merriam-Webster on unctuous

Nglish: Translation of unctuous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of unctuous for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Which Word Does Not Belong?

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!